Note: Don't forget to check out my exclusive, one-on-one interview with Tommy Faircloth.
A 1997 article in Fangoria Magazine (issue #160) first sparked my attention to "Crinoline Head," an offbeat independent horror-comedy written and directed by Tommy Faircloth. The intriguing premise persuaded me to order the film off of Faircloth's self-owned Horse Creek Productions a couple years ago, and while expecting merely a low-rent, low-budget slasher pic, what I got far exceeded my expectations. Since then, I have watched the movie countless times, and have enjoyed it immensely upon each viewing.
"Crinoline Head" is a no-holds-barred, often hilarious comedy that just so happens to involve a killer on the loose. It isn't exactly a spoof, a 'la "Scary Movie," but gets major laughs out of the delightfully perverse, "tell-it-like-it-is" dialogue, and its cast of diverse, intentionally dimwitted characters. It isn't an artistic triumph, but it is one of the most consistently entertaining, impressive indie horror films to have come out of the '90s.
The film begins as a group of college students prepare to travel to a secluded, lakeside house for the weekend. Few of them are actually friends with each other, and they all have their own motives for tagging along. The house belongs to Derrick's (Richard Abbott) family, and the invitees include Robyn (Liz Taheri), a wholesome young woman who pines for Derrick from afar; Cathy (Billie Fontanez), Robyn's tomboy best friend; Trish (Cathy Slaminko), a stuck-up bitch who wants nothing more than to become a member of the sorority headed by the ditzy Jenny (Tracey Powlas); Paul (Brian Kelly), a quiet, mysterious type; Greg (David Garone), a rich boy who hates the outdoors; and Bodhi (Tommy Faircloth) and Mark (Steven Lee), roommates who speak and act like male Valley Girls.
Once at the house, Paul spins a tale that he insists occurred at this very house fifteen years before. It seems a young boy named Dorchester ended up feasting on his deceased mother after she died at the cabin when food ran out and no one came to rescue him. When Dorchester finally was discovered, he was sent to a mental institution, refusing to let go of a crinoline skirt his mother had been working on before her death, but has since disappeared. Sure enough, the kids are eventually stalked one at a time by a slasher who wears a crinoline skirt over his head.
Boasting perfectly-chosen songs from indie punk bands, including Everready and Tiltwheel, and an eerie score by Michael Borwegen, "Crinoline Head" works surprisingly well as both an outrageous black comedy and an always-engrossing horror movie. A playful throwback to the slasher flicks of the '80s, the film wisely does not try to copy or steal from its predecessors, but comes up with a style and tone all its own.
Perhaps the highlight of "Crinoline Head" is watching the talented, mostly unknown actors at work. Each one fully embodies their exaggerated characters, so much so that it is difficult to believe the performers could be like anything other than the despicable types they play here. This feeling is made no more palpable than when dealing with Cathy Slaminko, as Trish, and Tracey Powlas, as Jenny. Slaminko and Powlas are right on target throughout, proving their comedic skills, as well as the precise grip they have on their standout, enchantingly hateful roles.
Also making an impression are Billie Fontanez and Liz Taheri, as the most down-to-earth people in the whole movie, Cathy and Robyn. Fontanez is especially captivating and frequently humorous as a tough, young woman who doesn't stand for being dissed or talked back to. Brian Kelly ("Freakshow"), as Paul, is also very good, as is Tommy Faircloth himself, who has a wonderfully bright, likable screen presence, as the celery-obsessed Bodhi.
"Crinoline Head" also exhibits quite a bit of originality when dealing with the inevitable killings (including an unfortunate drowning in a toilet bowl filled with excrement), as well as the stylish editing (at one point, a character's throat being slit is promptly cut by a butcher knife slicing into a juicy, red tomato) and stalk sequences (a frightened girl nervously sits on a bed as the closet door behind her slowly opens, revealing the crinoline skirt-wearing psycho). An unadulterated, genuinely fun movie from beginning to end, "Crinoline Head" is a motion picture not to be missed by horror buffs everywhere. It also exposes writer-director Faircloth as a truly talented filmmaker on the rise.
© 2001 Dustin Putman